MacFarlane has the good looks and suave manner of a typical show host, but he was a nontraditional choice for the Oscars. His creative calling card is behind-the-scenes work, as maker of the TV show "Family Guy" and movie "Ted." He tried to soften it with self-deprecation, but MacFarlane quickly proved a polarizing choice.
After MacFarlane appeared uncomfortable telling jokes in the opening monologue, he brought on William Shatner via video hook-up for an extended riff on Shatner as a time traveler appearing from the future trying to save MacFarlane from himself.
It sent MacFarlane into some high concept comedy. He was shown in a song and dance routine, backed by the Los Angeles Gay Men's Chorus, naming famous actresses and the films where they displayed their breasts. During a quick cutaway, Charlize Theron—one of the actresses named—did not appear amused.
In another skit, scenes from the movie "Flight" were performed by sock puppets. An overly long skit—again designed to illustrate MacFarlane's "bad taste"—showed him wearing a Flying Nun costume in an attempt to pick up Sally Field backstage.
MacFarlane drew groans with a reference to pop stars Rihanna and Chris Brown, back together as a couple four years after a domestic violence incident involving the two.
Talking about the movie "Django Unchained," MacFarlane called it "the story of a man fighting to get back his woman, who's been subject to unthinkable violence. Or as Chris Brown and Rihanna call it, a date movie."
MacFarlane drew more groans from the audience during a discussion of the movie "Lincoln" and actors who had portrayed the 19th Century president.
"I would argue that the actor who really got inside Lincoln's head was John Wilkes Booth," MacFarlane said.
He seemed to anticipate and delight in the response. "150 years and it's still too soon, huh? I've got some Napoleon jokes coming up."
In his opening monologue, MacFarlane delivered a quick, knowing poke at the academy for snubbing Ben Affleck as a best director nominee for the movie "Argo." He referred to the movie's story about an undercover mission to rescue Americans trapped in Iran during the 1980 hostage crisis.
"The story is so top secret that the film's director is unknown to the academy," MacFarlane said.
He joked about "Lincoln" best actor nominee Daniel Day Lewis' habit of staying in character during filming days even when the cameras were turned off, addressing him: "If you bumped into Don Cheadle in the studio lot, would you try and free him?"
MacFarlane appeared to loosen up once his opening routine was over. He drew some laughs with a handful of solid jokes when talking about Quvenzhane Wallis, the 9-year-old best actress nominess for "Beasts of the Southern Wild. "George Clooney smiled at a joke about Wallis being a future dating partner.
The puppet teddy bear of "Ted" even got in a few Jewish jokes during a routine with Mark Wahlberg. The bear claimed to be Jewish, which he thought was a prerequisite for working in the film business.
"I was born Theodore Shapiro and I would like to donate money to Israel and continue to work in Hollywood forever," the bear said.
"You're an idiot," Wahlberg retorted.
Some of MacFarlane's jokes drew rebukes by tweeters, while his supporters countered that the Oscars should have known what they were getting when hiring him. In the weeks before he took the stage, MacFarlane frequently predicted he would be savaged by critics. His opening routine with Shatner even had the "Star Trek" actor displaying a supposed headline from the future saying MacFarlane was the worst Oscars host ever.
And it was difficult to tell how much he was joking when he introduced Sandra Bullock for an award presentation.
"Our next presenter portrayed a raging alcoholic in the movie '28 Days,' which is kind of a weird coincidence because I'm going to be playing one in about an hour and a half," he said.